This past Sunday morning in Athens, Georgia, a 17-year-old girl named Ava Le’Ray Barrin became the fourteenth transgender person to be reported killed this year.
Her murder is the latest in a crisis of violence that continues to predominantly affect black transgender women.
Houston-based transgender blogger and advocate Monica Roberts was the first to report that a shooting victim described using male pronouns in Monday reports by the Athens Banner-Herald and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was, in fact, Ava Le’Ray Barrin.
As Roberts noted in her initial post, Barrin is now the youngest transgender person to be murdered this year—the next youngest was an 18-year-old black transgender woman named Jaquarrius Holland, who was shot in the head in Monroe, Louisiana, this February.
“What saddens and infuriates us as an organization that seeks to represent and empower Black trans women is that Ava was just 17 years old and hadn't even had a chance to follow her dreams yet,” the organization Black Transwomen, Inc.—for which Roberts serves as media chair—wrote in a statement.
According to the Journal-Constitution, police said that Barron was fatally shot in the chest during a Sunday morning altercation between the transgender girl and 21-year-old Jalen Breton Brown in the parking lot of an Athens apartment building.
The Journal-Constitution further reported that Brown claimed self-defense while Barrin was taken to the hospital, where she died. Brown was charged with murder. A spokesman for the Athens-Clarke County Police did not immediately return The Daily Beast’s call for further comment on the shooting.
Roberts, who is frequently the first to correctly identify the gender of transgender murder victims, told The Daily Beast in a phone interview that she has been relaying and amplifying these stories for “the last five or 10 years now.”
“There are certain things that I pick up on when I hear about these cases,” she said. “Facebook chatter will sometimes clue me in when there’s a trans murder and then, if I have the location, I can start investigating local news sources to see if they’ve confirmed the incident.”
Even though local news outlets frequently misgender transgender homicide victims, Roberts’ searching often leads her to Facebook pages like Ava Le’Ray Barrin’s, where she can confirm their identities.
From there, national LGBT rights organizations like GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign report on the murders. An obituary also appeared for Barrin on Bazaar Daily Monday, describing her as “unapologetically real,” a “social butterfly gone too soon,” and a “brave young woman who feared nothing, nobody, and especially not being herself.”
There is also a troubling national significance to this deeply personal loss for Barrin’s loved ones: In March, after six black transgender women and one Native American transgender woman were murdered in the first 60 days of the year, The Daily Beast reported that 2017 was on track to be the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the United States, outpacing 2016 in the number of reports.
Barrin’s death only confirms that trend: At 2017’s midway point, there have already been over half the number of reported murders as there were in 2016—a number that fell somewhere between 22 and 27, according to varying estimates from LGBT rights groups. The vast majority of transgender victims in 2017 have been black transgender women.
Behind those alarming numbers are tragic stories of brutal violence and unimaginable loss—stories about transgender women being shot, repeatedly stabbed, their bodies callously discarded. This April, for example, 27-year-old transgender woman Kenne McFadden was found floating in the San Antonio River after an apparent homicide.
It is unclear whether the actual number of annual transgender homicide victims is rising or if reporting is simply growing more accurate—but it seems clear that violence against transgender women of color is not abating.
Although the motive in the Barrin case remains uncertain, Roberts attributes the perpetuation of violence on a national scale to both transphobic rhetoric from the anti-LGBT right—particularly the “predator lie that is exacerbating tensions” as state legislatures try to pass anti-transgender bathroom bills—and to cultural stigma.
“The demonization of men who prefer and like to date trans women and along with the demonization of trans femininity also plays a part in this violence that’s aimed at us—and it needs to stop,” Roberts told The Daily Beast.
Transgender women are often killed by intimate partners. For example, in 2015, as The Advocate reported, Texas College football player Carlton Champion Jr. received a life sentence for murdering a transgender woman he was dating named Ty Underwood. During the trial, a defense attorney for Champion Jr. referred to the shooting as an “isolated incident.”
2015 would go on to become the most violent year on record for transgender people in the United States at the time, only to be eclipsed by 2016’s death toll. The murder of Ava Le’Ray Barrin only makes it likelier that 2017 will be the third year in a row to be declared the deadliest on record for transgender Americans.